Politician suspended after grabbing climate change protester by the neck
With ever-increasing concerns about the future of our planet, organisations such as Extinction Rebellion have used civil disobedience as a weapon of awareness - creating traffic jams, news headlines and, critically, conversations about global warming.
However, when politicians and bankers sat down to a black-tie dinner in central London last night, they didn’t count on multiple attendees being undercover activists. One such activist, there on behalf of Greenpeace, was Janet Barker. She charged to the front of the room during a speech by Chancellor Philip Hammond. However, she was swiftly apprehended by Conservative politician and Foreign Office minister Mark Field MP.
Members of the press were present at the annual Bankers and Merchants Dinner and a video appears to show Mr Field grab Ms Barker by the neck. "He certainly manhandled me in a way in which was very disagreeable," Ms Barker told the BBC. Meanwhile, Mr Field has since cited terror threats against the UK and stated that he was concerned she might be armed.
Watch the video below of Mark Field MP aggressively apprehend the protester
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said that the prime minister had "seen the footage" and "found it very concerning". The statement adds that Mr Field "referred himself to both the Cabinet Office and the Conservative Party. He will be suspended as a minister while investigations take place".
During the speech by Chancellor Philip Hammond, a number of female activists wearing red dresses stood up and donned sashes which read "climate emergency" - a phrase widely used by activists Extinction Rebellion. A decentralised direct action group, the movement is less than a year old but has mobilised thousands of activists, created traffic chaos in London and led to well over 1,000 arrests.
By comparison, Greenpeace is a 50-year-old NGO with a long history of protesting climate change, fossil fuel dependence, North Sea drilling and corporate negligence. With many thousands of volunteers around the world and a vast infrastructure including a fleet of ships, Greenpeace is a well-established name and Ms Barker had travelled from Wales in order to take part in Thursday’s action.
Mr Field has since defended his actions. "There was no security present and I was, for a split second, genuinely worried she might have been armed," Mr Field stated. However, he adds: "I deeply regret this episode and unreservedly apologise to the lady concerned for grabbing her, but in the current climate I felt the need to act decisively to close down the threat to the safety of those present."
But Ms Barker is steadfast in her position. "We were polite with people and said: 'We're here to deliver a message'," Ms Barker said. City of London Police stated that they were looking into "a number of third-party reports of a possible assault". However, when asked if she thought Mr Field had committed criminal assault, Ms Barker replied: "No, I don't think so. I don't want this to turn into a mud-slinging match."
"350 people were there and only one person reacted that way,” Ms Barker added. "It's more the behaviour of that individual. I want him to reflect on what he did and not do it again. Maybe he should go to anger management classes."
Protesting here at the Bankers and Merchants Dinner at Mansion House, a meeting of minds of politicians and top finance executives, it was a poignant place to strike. Ms Barker explained that they wanted the attention of "men who are in power, the bankers, the investors that are continuing to invest into fossil fuels". One of the activists also began reading an alternative version of Chancellor Hammond’s speech.
The reaction to the incident highlighted two completely separate sides of the argument. “This is horrific,” tweeted Labour's shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler. “Conservative Foreign Office Minister Mark Field violently grabs a woman as she protests about climate change at the bankers’ banquet. This appears to be assault. He must be immediately suspended or sacked. Due to Violence against women.”
Meanwhile, Mr Field’s colleagues in the Conservative party were far more supportive. "He panicked,” tweeted Johnny Mercer MP. “He's not trained in restraint and arrest, and if you think this is 'serious violence' you may need to recalibrate your sensitivities."
Bob Stewart MP stated that Mr Field probably went for Ms Barker's neck because if he had "touched her anywhere else he'd probably have been deemed highly inappropriate". However, he also cited terror issues. "She might have a belt of explosives on her," he stated. "She might have a weapon."
This seems a pertinent time to protest, considering the widespread concerns regarding a lack of action from both governments and businesses. In fact, a recent study concluded that human civilisation could collapse as early as 2050 if we continue on the path we’re on. The paper cites “tipping points” whereby human activity triggers a series of natural processes which are, from that point on, entirely irreversible.
This incident at the Bankers and Merchants Dinner further highlights tensions between climate activists and the ruling elite. While Chancellor Philip Hammond took the opportunity to mention the apparent irony of the situation - because Britain is leading the way in cutting carbon emissions - experts and activists alike believe this simply isn’t enough.